Last month I spoke with Scott Ryan, a man of many talents: founder/host of the Red Room Podcast (among others), author of many books (including Scott Luck Stories and an upcoming study of thirtysomething featuring interviews with the entire cast and crew), and finally, the director of the short documentary Voyage to Twin Peaks, which you can rent or buy on Amazon (online previews are here and here). Voyage to Twin Peaks begins by quickly recounting Scott's long history as a superfan before chronicling his first-ever visit to the Twin Peaks Festival in Snoqualmie, Washington (where the TV pilot & feature film were shot). The film is a charming valentine to the festival, the Twin Peaks fan community, and to the world of the show itself (including a poignant farewell to Catherine Coulson, the Log Lady, who appears onscreen here for the last time...well, except for her announced role in Twin Peaks, which may have been shot soon after). Scott and I discussed his new movie, but also much, much more about the show, the film, David Lynch, and Scott's other work and interests.
ME: I want to get to Twin Peaks in a second but I was actually really intrigued by that thirtysomething project. I’ve only seen a few episodes but I have this fascination with how baby boomers in the sixties are portrayed through different eras in different media. That is right in the era of Wonder Years, a few years before Field of Dreams, and the boomers are now parents and they’re reflecting on their past and present in media.
SCOTT: Obviously, I love Twin Peaks. But thirtysomething is my all-time favorite show. It’s just a piece of art. It happened at the same time on the same network. And in fact, thirtysomething and Twin Peaks were canceled on the same day with the same penstroke. The book is basically about the art of crafting the show. So I’m really excited for it to come out in 2017.
You interviewed thirty-eight cast members, would you say you got all the big ones?
I actually got 100% of the cast and 100% of the writing staff.
Who was the creator of that show again?
Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick.
You interviewed Ed Zwick?
I interviewed Ed Zwick and he was the most intelligent human I ever spoke to in my life. When you transcribe you’re kind of guessing where the person is gonna go and you’re typing along and they’re gonna use similar words. Every word he used I had to pause and Google! He was just brilliant. Winnie Holtzman was a writer on that show who went on to do Wicked and all kinds of things. So I got to talk to some amazing people, it was a charmed project.
You have a thirtysomething podcast too, right?
Right, and some of the interviews have come out that way and that’s what sparked it. But not everyone wanted to talk for the podcast - people look down on podcasting. Once it switched to a book they were willing to speak to me which was great. Also, Josh and I are just starting a Red Room Podcast book. We’ve been talking about it forever, now that we have five years.
I know you started Red Room Podcast in 2011, 2010, right?
2011. Actually, it’s strange, tomorrow is the fifth anniversary. I think our second episode was about Fire Walk With Me. But we mostly were covering a lot of other things. It’s really just been in the past year when Twin Peaks has come back that we really covered it because we don’t do episode by episode. My co-host Josh Minton and I, we like to view TV as art but we use Twin Peaks to base it on, which is why we called it The Red Room.
Over the years was there waxing and waning of Twin Peaks or would you say you always steadily engaged with it on some level?
Me personally, I have always been engaged with Twin Peaks since the summer of 1990. There has never been a time when my Fire Walk With Me poster hasn’t hung above my computer and I’ve lived in about eight places since then. Anyone I’ve met: you haven’t seen Twin Peaks? Well, if we’re gonna be friends, you’re gonna sit your ass down and watch it. (laughs) I still have every clipping about Twin Peaks from the USA Today in a box. I just saved everything. I was just totally obsessed with it. I checked the ratings every week. It sat there at 74, and I just knew it was gonna go. You just thought every episode could be the last one that aired.
Did you originally have a longer cut of Voyage to Twin Peaks' introduction, with the montage of your Twin Peaks collection? I actually wanted even more because I love the personal stories.
It actually was four and a half minutes long, and I told my whole story. And I let Brad Dukes and David Bushman watch the first four minutes and both of them without knowing what the other person said, said it was too long and you need to get to the Fest quickly. It broke my heart because I spent so much time on it. Literally I spent more time on doing that beginning than I did the rest of the movie. Because it was all about timing, what you were seeing, and I loved it and it really told my whole story. And then, when two people tell you something that don’t know, they had the exact same criticism, then it’s true. I just whacked it down to a minute and fifteen seconds and boom, we’re at the Fest. Then I showed it to the next person and they were like, I like that beginning part - could it be a little bit longer!
It wouldn’t be a complaint, I would just love to see…the missing pieces where you have a long montage.
It’s on YouTube, the original thing, it’s about four and half minutes. I think it’s listed as "Voyage to Twin Peaks preview 2". How did you think that the film played? Because it’s not very Lynchian, it has some humor - was that offputting to you or not?
No, I loved the fact that it was its own thing. It's Twin Peaks through your eyes, that’s how I took it. And I found it very charming - this was your heart and soul: "my" voyage into Twin Peaks. I think you gave it the right form. I would imagine if I saw a longer cut I probably would feel ok, this is too long. There’s that satisfaction in boiling things down to their essence and then feeling like you want to see more but you don’t need to.
That is what I’m best at as a director, is shortening up. I don’t overstay my welcome. I really like my movies to make people go, what? That’s the end? Even this one, you’re surprised when the credits hit. I’m actually working on getting another feature film up on Amazon that I made three years ago called Meet Abby. And the number one complaint I had for that was: but it ended too soon! It’s just getting to the point…and to me that’s what the whole story was about. Everyone who did see it, the ending is shocking to you and I love that. Not everyone does. People want it all spelled out. Even our podcast is that way, we try to keep it to forty-five minutes. So many people do two- or three-hour podcasts and I’d rather people go, that was good, I want more.
When they were wrapping everyone in plastic [at the Festival], I wondered is that a little too much, the murder victim...but the other part of it was just visceral. I was like, man, I could not be wrapped in plastic. Every time they put the plastic over someone’s face I was suffocating watching it. Oh God! You’re braver than I am in that sense.
As a filmmaker, there is no doubt that in that part you are "making fun of the fans". That’s why I go first. If you’re gonna laugh at someone, you’re gonna laugh at me. When people see the film outside, everyone laughs, they’re like you’ve gotta be kidding me, I can’t believe you did this. But it has to be me who goes first because I wouldn’t make fun of anyone for doing it. Because when I was there, I got wrapped in plastic, I laid at the rock.
You’re going to the Washington Fest again this year, right?
And then they show your film at the UK one, but you’re not going to be at that one?
No, I’m going to that one too. I’m actually hitting all three of the fests this year: the Great Southern, they played my movie, the Seattle one, they’re playing the movie, and then heading out to the UK, who’s playing it. So it’s a charmed Twin Peaks year for me!
I know you hadn’t been to the Washington one before last year - had you been to any Twin Peaks festivals before? Or was that the first?
I had not. It’s funny, the reason I never went is solely because if Laura Palmer [Sheryl Lee] wasn’t there, I thought I’m going to be so disappointed. And then the one year she did show up and that was the twentieth anniversary. This was the twenty-fifth, and I thought: it’s twenty-five years later and I think she’s gonna go. So that’s why I decided to head out. She wasn’t there, but what I really learned in the end is that the festival is not about the celebrities. That isn’t why you go, and who cares who’s there? It’s about the fans, it’s the location, and it’s the feeling that you get. So I actually could care less who’s there this year.
Well, it was funny watching it and seeing all the people. Just being online the past few years and engaging with different Twin Peaks people…it’s like oh, I know that name. Having a virtual community come together and actually be a physical one - what was that experience like for you?
I’m not a religious or spiritual person at all but it was what I imagine religion, spiritualness – good luck transcribing that word! – was like. I was honestly transformed for months after the Fest and I’m so curious to find out if this is gonna happen to me again. I really felt like someone who had...I hate to say "see the face of God" because I didn’t remove my arm afterwards! I felt this peace and goodwill and I didn’t really realize that until the last day. When I went there I was thinking about getting the celebrity interviews, and filming the locations, and that’s what most of the front part of the documentary was about. Then it was the last day that I realized I had made all these friends. That's when I started doing the interviews that end the documentary. And I was like, this is what the whole thing should have been about. I learn as the movie was going on because I was living it.
Is it pretty much in chronological order of how it happened?
That makes sense because it did have that flow to it. When you went there, it sounds like you really were thinking of this as a filming project. You went there with a mission to make a film about the festival?
Well, I didn’t know. I’ve been making movies since I was sixteen years old. I’ve done this my whole life. So if I was going out there I thought, I’m gonna bring the video camera. I don’t know what I’m gonna do but I want to have the option. I want to film it and see if I get something. There’s a scene in the documentary where we’re at Big Ed and Nadine’s house and I was just filming the house, getting an establishing shot. And the lady who lives there opens the door and comes out and starts talking to us. Well, that was just serendipity that I was filming. You know, obviously I’m gonna put this part in the documentary! I didn’t know what I was gonna do in the front part. Had I known, I feel like I would have done a lot more interviews with the fans and focused that way, but you have to make it with the footage that you have.
With the people that you met, had you met any of them before or were they all first-timers? I know you’d met some of them online and talked to them before, but had you met anybody in the flesh?
I have never thought of this before, but no, I hadn’t. But I felt like I knew Brad Dukes [author of Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks]. In fact we went out a day early and spent a day with Brad. My wife Jen filmed me and Brad just talking, and she got a great shot of me the first time where I see the falls and things like that. So it was emotional. I just met Brad that day but it’s like we were best friends forever. So no, I never thought of it before but I didn’t know one person. Even Courtney Stallings - she does some blogging for the Red Room, we hung out with her. The story that I love to tell is that my wife and I went to breakfast at a truck stop across from the hotel. And we’re just sitting there eating, and these two people come in that I recognize from the weekend. We had two extra seats so we said, you wanna sit down? They ended up being from England and we just talked. We stayed there for an hour and a half, we ended up driving to a couple events. Now we’re going to England to see them! And it’s all because we watched the same show. My analogy is, can you imagine going to your local diner, going out for breakfast and someone would go up to you and say, hey, did you ever see an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond? And you’d be like yeah. Good, I’m sitting with you! I mean that’s crazy. And now we’re really good friends with these people. It’s hard to explain.
It’s funny what you were saying before about Twin Peaks, and then saying thirtysomething’s your favorite show. I almost feel like...I mean it is a TV show but it’s kind of not. It’s something different almost… There’s a weird culture where the TV show is almost the tip of the iceberg in a weird way.
I agree with you. And you can’t explain it to someone who doesn’t know. I've become friends with John Thorne [publisher of Wrapped in Plastic, the Twin Peaks magazine that ran from 1992 to 2005]...that was the other thing – you wanna talk about meeting someone last year, I met John Thorne and I felt like I’d met a celebrity. He was the most unassuming guy and Wrapped in Plastic had meant so much to me. I asked him, would you meet me for breakfast tomorrow morning and he’s like sure! And I’m like oh my God, I’m having breakfast with John Thorne at the Double R Diner! It was just crazy.
So how long did you wait to tell him that you didn’t like the Deer Meadow theory [John's theory that first part of Fire Walk With Me is a dream]?
(laughs) I think we actually talked about Wild at Heart. I had always wondered why they didn’t cover Wild at Heart until the seventy-fourth out of seventy-five issues. So I asked him, and that’s when he said he doesn’t like Wild at Heart. And we actually argue about that more than Deer Meadow; his Deer Meadow theory is a brilliant theory except for the fact that it’s 100% wrong! In Wild at Heart I take the journey that Lynch wants me to take and I really believe in their love story. The scene that I like to talk about - it’s so relevant right now today that it’s crazy that it’s not trending or going viral - is where she’s flipping through the radio and hearing all the violence. And then she pulls over and they start doing this kick and the music’s ridiculous and they’re kicking...but then it fades to this beautiful Hollywood lullaby. Then they hug and there’s the sunset in between them. And to me that’s Lynch. He’s saying, Don’t you realize that isn’t real love? Real love is kicking and screaming because that’s what your partner needs. And to me, it’s just beautiful. That scene carries the whole movie for me. What’s your favorite Lynch movie that’s not Twin Peaks, not Fire Walk With Me?
Mulholland Drive is kind of my “official” favorite, but on a personal level my favorite might be The Straight Story. I really like that film. That’s a Rosetta Stone film because it’s got none of the surrealism, it’s got none of the dark violence, and yet it’s still so fully Lynchian. He didn’t even write it, but it’s got that essence of Lynch that lets you understand what he’s doing with all the other ones. And I think that’s especially true for people who would dismiss and go oh, he’s weird for the sake of being weird. No, I feel all of his stories, at their heart, they have the same sensibility as The Straight Story. And then they have all this other cool stuff that I love attached to it. But I really like that film.
My all-time favorite theatrical Lynch shot is in The Straight Story. It’s the very first shot in the movie. You come in between the two houses and you don’t know which direction you’re gonna go. You could go to that house, you could go to this house. Then you just slowly go into that house and it’s still bringing you into the story. I love that shot. I think it’s fascinating that both of us picked the two Lynch films that are explainable. What I argue with John about, I think the reason he doesn’t like Wild at Heart is because even your mom would know that it’s based on The Wizard of Oz because it’s so in your face. Wild at Heart is very understandable, and The Straight Story is very understandable. And that’s okay too. I love The Straight Story too. I feel like people don’t give it as much due. This is a rough question, but which do you prefer, Twin Peaks the series or Fire Walk With Me?
The film. Fire Walk With Me. And it is a little apples and oranges, partly because the series is so uneven. There’s three different ways to look at it: the series as a whole, the series as the best episodes, or the series as a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts type of thing. I think overall what I’ve become most interested in is this idea of a meta-Twin Peaks that all these things are a part of. Before the Missing Pieces came out, I really had trouble seeing the film and the series as being equal parts of the bigger story. They were challenges to one another. Even just a few months before the Missing Pieces came out, I was noticing a lot of – it seemed like the slight majority opinion of people I encountered was like oh, this is bad, or disappointing, or not up to the series. It was like you had to choose a side or something. So I was like, I’m gonna choose a side, I’m going with the film for a number of reasons: a) the pure unfiltered David Lynch, b) the fact of Sheryl Lee’s great performance, but also because I feel like the film is absolutely necessary for the series. If it just ended with episode 29 and no prequel film was made, there’d be something missing from it. Because Laura would never really have gotten the narrative justice she deserved. And the fact that he went and did that, I think makes the whole project that much more worthwhile. So that’s a very long answer to your question but that’s my sentiment.
I like your answer a lot because it’s what I think too. I think I asked this question on the panel I did in the Great Southern...
You asked is Twin Peaks Laura’s story or Cooper’s story? And I feel like that’s almost a synonym for the question of is your favorite Fire Walk With Me or is it Twin Peaks?
Right. What I’ve really learned is when you ask a Twin Peaks person any questions about ranking something they get all flustered about it. And they don’t want to say anything isn’t good and it’s like, people, we devoted our lives to this series, we all love it, it doesn’t mean you hate David Lynch because you say I like this better than that. But to me, Laura Palmer is the center of it all. And I agree with you 100%. If it wasn’t for Fire Walk With Me, it wouldn’t be that way. And I’ve argued with people about it because it isn’t Cooper’s story. The hero of this story is Laura Palmer. And I’m sitting here, I love to make claims and jump ahead. Laura Palmer better save Agent Cooper in season three. That’s what I want.
I tend to agree. It’s gonna be exciting because it’s not a safe thing – I’m nervous about it a little bit. There’s a feeling with what exists that Twin Peaks escaped or achieved its heights by the skin of its teeth. That movie never should have happened for so many reasons. That movie was hexed, cursed, damned, and he made it anyway. You get a little nervous now, with 20/20 hindsight. I’m sure whatever he does is going to be amazing in one regard or another. But is it going to somehow corrupt the heart of Twin Peaks? I don’t know.
I look at it a different way. And here’s where I’ll bust out my skills as being the elder. This is something that John Thorne and I talked about, because we went down this path when the show really aired. It’s a different thought process. Everyone wanted there to be another Twin Peaks movie because they wanted to know what happened with Cooper and Bob. Then you find out there’s gonna be a Twin Peaks movie. So everyone goes to the movie and they’re so certain what they’re going to find out. And you don’t find that out. And I think the same thing is going to happen with season three. I hear so many people wondering are Bobby and Shelly gonna be together? Catherine and Pete, are they still married – I guess that’s a bad example! You know what I mean. Stop doing that! Whatever you think is gonna happen in season three, it’s not. Lynch doesn’t do what you want. You have to let him do it, and pour over you.
You have to trust.
I don’t have any hopes, other than that I want Laura to save Cooper because to me that’s what “I’ll see you in twenty-five years” means. Here’s how I would like to see season three end - and it would never happen because if you remember what I told myself, stop wishing for things! I would love if the last shot of season three is Cooper sitting in the chair in the Red Room and Laura having her hand on his shoulder and having Cooper laughing or crying, having it be flipped. Now, it’s not gonna be that but I just hope she saves him. As long as that happens and they keep Laura the hero and never the damsel in distress then I’m happy with season three. I could care less what happens with Shelly and Audrey, if Leo is still holding the spiders over his head, I don’t care.
I agree, that’s what I mean when I say "corrupt the heart." There’s only two things that could make me disappointed. One is if they make somehow the outcome of Laura’s struggle not...if it somehow seems to negate the outcome of Fire Walk With Me I would be unhappy. And with the Leland/Bob thing they always walked this tightrope…but he becomes a boring character if he’s just this guy who’s inhabited.
I really believe that the reason we still talk about Twin Peaks today is because of the awful stories. I think the fact that the lows were so low, I mean Little Nicky! The James story! They are awful stories that you wouldn’t expect to see on an episode of Full House. And yet they slip through, and that’s fascinating. It’s why I don’t do good in trivia at the Twin Peaks Fest because they ask so many questions about Little Nicky and I always fast-forward. I’ve watched that story two times in my entire life. The first time it aired and then one time I hosted a really big gathering where a bunch of people watched the whole series, and I couldn’t fast-forward.
In one sitting, like a twenty-four-hour marathon?
No, it actually took a year. I have a lot of ideas about watching Twin Peaks. You do not binge Twin Peaks. That’s the worst idea. If you binge, I do not believe that the owl and the fan…you need to sit on Twin Peaks. You need to sit on it, and be scared of Bob and let all that time get into you. Because that’s where Twin Peaks happens. Twin Peaks honestly happens when you’re not watching it, not when you’re watching it.
Just for fun, I asked Scott to rank Twin Peaks episodes from favorite to least favorite, an exercise I conducted myself last year. Here is the list he provided: